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September 22, 2011 5:47 AM   Subscribe

While former mayor Richard M. Daley's 2008 selloff of all 36,000 of Chicago's parking meters to LAZ Parking has resulted in some pain for drivers, such as steep rate hikes and the end of free Sundays and holidays, none is weirder than the installation of over a thousand parking meters in the middle of a deserted urban prairie. They were recently replaced by the latest electronic payboxes, many of which are still awaiting their first customer.
posted by theodolite (106 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
The invisible hand servicing invisible cars?
posted by Eyebeams at 5:54 AM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


When I first heard this was going to happen and laughed. I figured/assumed they'd do something like this for 25 years (max!), but to sell off your parking meter income for 75 years is a bit ridiculous.

And seriously, who didn't see a rate hike coming? This is why government is good, income from one area can keep prices a bit lower in others.

and I'm sure they'll use the excuse of "we had to install x amount of new pay-boxes" to argue for the rate increases.

Glad I don't live there.
posted by zombieApoc at 5:55 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know Chicago, but flip that Google map view 180 degrees and, lo and behold, there's cars parked along that street.
posted by underthehat at 5:57 AM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


This was an excellent policy, despite drawbacks and some decisions like this. There's no reason to subsidize parking, and Chicago should charge whatever the market can bear. Why should we encourage car use? If expensive parking makes people marginally more likely to use public transport or carpool, then that's a win for Chicago. I wish more cities would follow their lead.
posted by Pants! at 5:57 AM on September 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


City Hall could spend more than half of its $1.2 billion check within a few years, but a private company that agreed to pay that huge sum to lease Chicago's parking meters now will get to collect the cash for the next 75 years.
Good ol' long-term thinking!
Under a deal approved Thursday by a 40-5 City Council vote, the cost to park at two-thirds of the meters in Chicago will quadruple next month. Neighborhood spots that cost a quarter an hour will cost $1 an hour and will increase to $2 an hour by 2013. The top meter rates in the Loop will go from $3 an hour to $6.50 within five years.
Good ol' "market efficiencies lower prices"!
posted by DU at 5:59 AM on September 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


In practice, the administration of the parking system between Chicago Parking Meters, LAZ (the operators) and the vendors, it's a gigantic cluster-fuck that manages to keep itself in motion by some miracle every day.
posted by bleep at 5:59 AM on September 22, 2011


There's no reason to subsidize parking, and Chicago should charge whatever the market can bear.

Why did they need to sell it off to raise rates? Because they want to trade a long-term revenue stream for cash now that they can use to "balance" a budget?
posted by smackfu at 6:00 AM on September 22, 2011 [21 favorites]




I don't know Chicago, but flip that Google map view 180 degrees and, lo and behold, there's cars parked along that street.


there most certainly is. probably from the senior center behind them.
posted by lester at 6:01 AM on September 22, 2011


There's no reason to subsidize parking,

Absolutely correct. Why should the rent be too damned high on one side of the sidewalk and completely free on the other?
posted by three blind mice at 6:03 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


This was an excellent policy,

Which policy, charging for parking or farming it out to a private company?
posted by benito.strauss at 6:03 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


BTW, did this sell-off also turn a bunch of unionized meter maids into non-unionized part time workers?
posted by smackfu at 6:06 AM on September 22, 2011 [17 favorites]


Why did they need to sell it off to raise rates? Because they want to trade a long-term revenue stream for cash now that they can use to "balance" a budget?

Which policy, charging for parking or farming it out to a private company?


Both were good choices. The private company can be more flexible about adjusting pricing to meet current demand.
posted by Pants! at 6:06 AM on September 22, 2011


The private company can be more flexible about adjusting pricing to meet current demand.

That's simply not true.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:07 AM on September 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


i should clarify that i live pretty close to there. to characterize that part of chicago as 'urban prairie' would be somewhat inaccurate. there are occupied homes and businesses within 2-3 blocks. in fact it looks like this is an old residential neighborhood that was cleared for some possible industrial development.
posted by lester at 6:08 AM on September 22, 2011


A private company will charge on Sunday, just because any money is better than no money.

The government will have free parking on Sunday, because they want to promote people getting out on Sunday and free parking encourages that.

The government will use its power to help the city. A private company will use its power to help itself.
posted by smackfu at 6:08 AM on September 22, 2011 [58 favorites]


BTW, did this sell-off also turn a bunch of unionized meter maids into non-unionized part time workers?

I hope so. It will save the taxpayers millions in benefits. There will no longer be full time wages for part time jobs. But, if you just support unions as a theoretical good concept, this is a bad thing.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:11 AM on September 22, 2011


Huh? I'm sure they were full time jobs. The private company will just change them to part-time because then they don't have to pay benefits. Fuck the workers, right?
posted by smackfu at 6:12 AM on September 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


There's no reason to subsidize parking, and Chicago should charge whatever the market can bear. Why should we encourage car use? If expensive parking makes people marginally more likely to use public transport or carpool, then that's a win for Chicago. I wish more cities would follow their lead.

Umm, this is America and it says in the Constitution that we're entitled to cheap gas and affordable, convenient parking.

Well, I'm exaggerating but people do indeed feel entitled to car-related convenience. In a lot of cities, even ones with decent mass transit, making it harder to drive results in less people coming into the city. Which would actually be pretty awesome if it didn't kill commerce in the area and create a dead city with people doing all their living, working and shopping in a ring of cookie-cutter suburbs. But I absolutely agree with you that making cities conform to cars is, in principle, a really awful idea.

I have no idea how reducing car efficiency would affect Chicago (I suspect the city could probably handle it pretty well actually), but it's an infuriating consideration that urban planners have to allow for in many places. It's contrasted with the fact that car culture has led to both obesity and wars over resources, because Americans feel entitled to drive even very short distances in the face of alternatives that might require effort like exertion or following someone else's schedule.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:13 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I first heard this was going to happen and laughed. I figured/assumed they'd do something like this for 25 years (max!), but to sell off your parking meter income for 75 years is a bit ridiculous.

Unless you hold the view that private motor vehicles are unlikely to be very common in 20 years' time let alone 75, which might turn out to be a good bet.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:13 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sounds like LAZ's business plan is to install meters along every street possible, so that, eventually, there will be no place to park on-street without having to first feed a meter...and LAZ's bottom-line.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:14 AM on September 22, 2011


Free parking on weekends is not an act of charity by government. The increase in sales tax revenue is expected to offset the lost parking revenue. Also, strategically, helping the central business district succeed is good for long term stability of the neighborhood, property values (which also lead to increased property taxes) etc.

Given the 75 year horizon, a private company should have those same sorts of concerns, but more likely they will just act to maximize short term revenue.
posted by COD at 6:14 AM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Private company raises rates = market forces at work

City government raises rates = cash grab by fat cats in city hall
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:14 AM on September 22, 2011 [35 favorites]


"It will save the taxpayers millions in benefits. There will no longer be full time wages for part time jobs. But, if you just support unions as a theoretical good concept, this is a bad thing."

It's also a bad thing if you believe in things like benefits and full-time wages for full-time jobs. LAZ employs an army of temps to do their dirty work who don't always qualify for benefits from their agencies or get decent wages for running around the city in negative-degree temps.
posted by bleep at 6:16 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


This was an excellent policy, despite drawbacks and some decisions like this. There's no reason to subsidize parking

The outrage I've heard is that they sold way, way too cheaply without giving any time to debate and actually raise questions like "what is this revenue stream worth?" Rates probably should reflect efficient usage, but (as I have heard it) they priced the deal as if the low rates would remain.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:16 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


The top meter rates in the Loop will go from $3 an hour to $6.50 within five years.

As someone who works on getting people out of their cars, I have no problem with higher parking rates. It shouldn't be cheaper to park in the Loop than it is to take the El to get there. My wife and try to take transit whenever we can (living in another city) and and are irked when 4 transit fares (2 each way) costs more than $10 when we could have parked for under $5. That's not the way to encourage sustainable behaviour, and cheap parking only creates congestion on city streets.

That aside, privatizing on-street parking is idiotic for the simple reason that most Parking Authorities are profitable and bring money into city coffers. Also, it is smart urban policy to manage the supply of parking spaces, and an in-house authority helps manage that link between policy and operations.

Ranting aside, the pics are hilarious. Thanks Eyebeams!
posted by dry white toast at 6:16 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


LAZ parking, bringing you the finest in hassle-free parking automation, from the same people who set and live lavishly off of your heroically inflated oil prices....ABU-DHABI @_@
posted by obscurator at 6:17 AM on September 22, 2011


The private company can be more flexible about adjusting pricing to meet current demand.

Yes, they can, but they have a monopoly, so they won't.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:18 AM on September 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


It's also a bad thing if you believe in things like benefits and full-time wages for full-time jobs.

We happen to have hugely distorted the market for full-time vs part-time labor. I don't think the answer to that is having municipal workers doing semi-random tasks.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:19 AM on September 22, 2011


No but the answer also isn't letting taxpayers pat themselves on the back for having a superficially thin bureaucracy as some kind of cold comfort for not having steady employment and a living wage.
posted by bleep at 6:21 AM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


My city's mayor proposed a parking privatization scheme last year that would have given J.P. Morgan control of the city's parking system for 50 years. It would have probably gotten through the city council but they saw how much the citizens of Chicago hated their parking privatization system and killed the proposal.
posted by octothorpe at 6:21 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not directing this comment at anyone on MeFi, but: I love it when self-described libertarians flip their lid over having to pay for parking.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:23 AM on September 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


Privatization of the meter operation/collection service isn't prima facie a terrible idea, but it certainly seems like in this particular case that it was ill-considered and shortsighted. They've signed away 75 years of revenue for a lump sum that they're on-track to burn through in a couple of years.

Unless they are cunningly investing it in long-term, strategic programs that will benefit the city over the better part of a century, which I am pretty skeptical of, it looks pretty much like mortgaging your house and spending the big check from the bank on hookers and blow.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:24 AM on September 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


As someone who works on getting people out of their cars, I have no problem with higher parking rates. It shouldn't be cheaper to park in the Loop than it is to take the El to get there. My wife and try to take transit whenever we can (living in another city) and and are irked when 4 transit fares (2 each way) costs more than $10 when we could have parked for under $5. That's not the way to encourage sustainable behaviour, and cheap parking only creates congestion on city streets.

Heh, I didn't hang out in the Loop a whole lot, but after living in the area for about 4 years, the only time I'd ever found street parking in downtown was early on a Sunday morning. Most of the time you're gonna have to pay $25 and up for any kind of parking in the Loop.
posted by kmz at 6:26 AM on September 22, 2011


. It shouldn't be cheaper to park in the Loop than it is to take the El to get there.

I don't know about Chicago but in general it seems like it takes a lot more than high parking costs to get people to take public transit. Around here downtown parking is typically 12 to 15 dollars and the bus is $5 round-trip and people still insist on driving.
posted by octothorpe at 6:30 AM on September 22, 2011


Good ol' "market efficiencies lower prices"!

To be fair, there's no market here, just a government-sanctioned monopoly.
posted by jedicus at 6:32 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


As an urban cyclist, I was sort of surprised at the concessions the city was making by leaving all of the olde-timey parking meters along the street...although this may be due to extreme laziness.
"meter remains as a courtesy to cyclists"
Soon, though, I found out I was not the only beneficiary of these anachronisms
Meter remains as a courtesy to...
posted by obscurator at 6:33 AM on September 22, 2011


Privatization of the meter operation/collection service isn't prima facie a terrible idea...

Yes it is. Operation of parking meters is a monopoly business. There are no "market forces" at play except the price at which people will no longer park in the city. Who cares if parking rates drive down the number of customers in a retail district if the result increases profit for the parking company. This is a tax for parking, there's no argument for "private investment" either. Why not sell off property taxes while your at it... that's an even bigger revenue stream.

It's essentially a bond whose interest is paid by people who park their cars... and I doubt they negotiated good terms: 75 years is a long time. And, it's not like Chicago couldn't have just gotten a regular old bond.

I think certain people just have a Pavlovian response to the word "privatization"
posted by ennui.bz at 6:33 AM on September 22, 2011 [17 favorites]


As an urban cyclist, I was sort of surprised at the concessions the city was making by leaving all of the olde-timey parking meters along the street...although this may be due to extreme laziness.
"meter remains as a courtesy to cyclists"
Soon, though, I found out I was not the only beneficiary of these anachronisms
"meter remains as a courtesy to..."
"meter remains as a courtesy to..."
posted by obscurator at 6:35 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hope this doesn't catch on north of the border.
posted by desjardins at 6:35 AM on September 22, 2011


I love it when self-described libertarians flip their lid over having to pay for parking.

Me too! Please point it out so I can enjoy it, because I must have missed it.
posted by Bort at 6:41 AM on September 22, 2011


We happen to have hugely distorted the market for full-time vs part-time labor.

This is really the point and nicely said, but it's not just full-time versus part-time but also municipal versus private. There is a huge imbalance between the working conditions of public and private employees. Public employees have by and large not seen their incomes and benefits and job security diminish as much as private employees have. Some people think this is a good thing, others not so good, but it does seem to be a fact.

I don't think the answer to that is having municipal workers doing semi-random tasks.

I don't either think that's the answer, but a lot of people currently employed by the city and facing the alternative of the moribund Obama job market would probably disagree.
posted by three blind mice at 6:42 AM on September 22, 2011


Who cares if parking rates drive down the number of customers in a retail district if the result increases profit for the parking company.

Space for parking is not actually free. If a retail area needs parking, it pays for land and parking structures or subsidizes the parking fee.

There are no "market forces" at play except the price at which people will no longer park in the city.

Street parking right where you want to go competes with off-street parking, parking further away, taxis, bikes, and public transit. They let the rare vary in space and time to get what people are willing to pay for those spaces; the equilibrium point is where those other options are just as good. If anything it is more efficient, since when parking is too cheap people for whom driving and parking is not that valuable do so and take up the space.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:43 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


If your city is thinking that maybe parking should cost more but doesn't quite have the guts to just raise rates, please point them to San Francisco's awesome example (SFpark) instead of Chicago's dreadful one.
posted by parudox at 6:46 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


the moribund Obama job market

Nice try, but you misspelled "Republican" there.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:48 AM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


The main reason to put in fancy meters is that they take credit cards which is the only way people will be able to pay for $5 an hour rates since quarters won't cut it.

(Requiring a credit card to park your car also seems pretty iffy on the face of it, but I guess the poor can use prepaid debit cards.)
posted by smackfu at 6:50 AM on September 22, 2011


The machines take coins also (and I think bills; I don't recall).
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:56 AM on September 22, 2011


If they were going to privatize, they should have privatized to two different companies with interlaced territories. Privatization without ongoing competition and customer choice is silly.

And these meters ought to include plans for rolling out electric charging stations to encourage electric cars.
posted by pracowity at 6:56 AM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


smackfu: "The main reason to put in fancy meters is that they take credit cards which is the only way people will be able to pay for $5 an hour rates since quarters won't cut it.

(Requiring a credit card to park your car also seems pretty iffy on the face of it, but I guess the poor can use prepaid debit cards.)
"

DC has plenty of single-space meters that take credit cards. As far as I know, all of them still take coins, and our multispace meters take cards, coins, and bills.

We also just deployed a citywide system that allows you to pay for any meter with a card by phone or mobile web browser. I'm not thrilled that there's a surcharge for the service or that it's run by a private company, but it seems to work well, and the surcharge is small and worth the convenience of not carrying quarters.


Oh, and I see absolutely no evidence that this new vendor is pricing their meters by demand in Chicago.
posted by schmod at 6:58 AM on September 22, 2011


First, they came for the parking meters....

This is shortsighted and lazy policy, devised by shortsighted and lazy government, and supported by shortsighted and lazy thinkers.

See Stockholm Syndrome.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:00 AM on September 22, 2011


Space for parking is not actually free.

Those are some odd bedfellows there: libertarians against cars!

Do you really think that a "true free market" for cars would make things better? I always thought the point was that point was that smarter government policy would improve things wrt transportation and we shouldn't be hung up on the fact that it is explicit (rather than implicit) policy.

Street parking right where you want to go competes with off-street parking, parking further away, taxis, bikes, and public transit. They let the rare vary in space and time to get what people are willing to pay for those spaces; the equilibrium point is where those other options are just as good. If anything it is more efficient, since when parking is too cheap people for whom driving and parking is not that valuable do so and take up the space.

except when various factors make things inelastic. it might be true, it might not and you don't know until a block has emptied out of businesses. retail is really driven by car traffic (for the most part) it's why business owners are so irrational about parking/car issues.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:00 AM on September 22, 2011


If expensive parking makes people marginally more likely to use public transport or carpool, then that's a win for Chicago. I wish more cities would follow their lead.


If you knew the neighborhood these meters were at, you wouldn't take public transportation or walk. Carpool--probably not.

As for public transportation, I would LOVE to take my local Metra downtown on a weekend and not be foreced to come back by 3pm otherwise forget getting home but now, they cut even the weekend train. So much for encouraging public transportation.
posted by stormpooper at 7:01 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


If they were going to privatize, they should have privatized to two different companies with interlaced territories. Privatization without ongoing competition and customer choice is silly.

Or better, a recurring (i.e. every x years) auction selling the rights to metered parking on each street or even each side of each street.
posted by jedicus at 7:05 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here in my city, public transportation is still my least preferred option for getting downtown. It's crowded, inconvenient, dirty, and I'm about four times as likely to get sick. It's cheaper than parking downtown every day, sure, but honestly, there are times when even the cost really isn't the driving factor in deciding to park downtown. Factoring in the cost of getting sick and losing a couple of day's work, oftentimes driving is the cheaper option.
posted by LN at 7:11 AM on September 22, 2011


The main reason to put in fancy meters is that they take credit cards which is the only way people will be able to pay for $5 an hour rates since quarters won't cut it.

"Fancy meters" also mean extra profits because there's no seepage. If you have a meter where you input a space number or have to get a little slip of paper to put in the windshield, there's no more "hey what luck! This meter still has 20 minutes left on it from the other guy!"
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:13 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


"hey what luck! This meter still has 20 minutes left on it from the other guy!"

True, but your little windshield sticker is transferable to any other space in the city, if you happen to be popping into the shops and/or moving your car within the time limit printed on the slip.
posted by obscurator at 7:19 AM on September 22, 2011


If they were going to privatize, they should have privatized to two different companies with interlaced territories. Privatization without ongoing competition and customer choice is silly.

True. However, there isn't a capitalist corporation around that actually wants competition. I doubt that "interlaced territories" part would survive the first round of negotiations with the city. See also: Cable TV territories.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:21 AM on September 22, 2011


The private company can be more flexible about adjusting pricing to meet current demand.

That's simply not true.


I read that as a joke. Maybe not an intentional one, but a joke nonetheless.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:23 AM on September 22, 2011


This isn't an example of the "Free Market", this is an example of Crony "Capitalism" -- A real free market solution would be for operators to compete, and with parking meters it would be easy. You could just alternate with some companies on some roads and other companies on other roads. You could even alternate meter by meter.

Companies could then innovate on incentive programs and loyalty programs and so on to earn customer loyalty or else just compete on price.

But this is just an example of a city screwing it's citizens for a quick pay off.
posted by delmoi at 7:24 AM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


If they were going to privatize, they should have privatized to two different companies with interlaced territories. Privatization without ongoing competition and customer choice is silly.

I'm imagining something like the firemen in 'Gangs of New York' i.e. gangs of meter maids brawling over the most profitable parking spots. Add in the fact that the United Arab Emirates is behind the group currently owning the parking meters and I imagine a remake of Red Dawn: JIhadi terrorists bringing Sharia law to America, one parking meter at a time.

Matt Yglesias goes on and on about "market pricing" of parking, but that just illustrates what a total tool he is. There isn't and never will be, a "free market" in transportation.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:25 AM on September 22, 2011


ennui.bz: "I'm imagining something like the firemen in 'Gangs of New York' i.e. gangs of meter maids brawling over the most profitable parking spots. Add in the fact that the United Arab Emirates is behind the group currently owning the parking meters and I imagine a remake of Red Dawn: JIhadi terrorists bringing Sharia law to America, one parking meter at a time.

Matt Yglesias goes on and on about "market pricing" of parking, but that just illustrates what a total tool he is. There isn't and never will be, a "free market" in transportation.
"

Huh? No. That's not how it works at all, and there's been a lot of research done into this.

Performance parking uses "smart" meters that can sense vehicle occupancy to develop detailed statistics about usage patterns. Subsequently, an algorithm determines the optimum price to charge on that block to ensure 80-90% occupancy at any given time. (And, yes -- this would likely make parking expensive during the day, free at night, and encourage people to park a bit further out).

The setup costs for such a system are high, and it's a tough sell politically (people love free parking even if they can never find a spot). However, nothing has been done to suggest that it doesn't work, and it's been successfully implemented in Redwood City, CA, and is currently being rolled out in San Francisco.
posted by schmod at 7:32 AM on September 22, 2011


Not only are they a state-sanctioned monopoly, but I'm guessing that appealing parking tickets from LAZ no longer involves a trip down to the municipal courthouse; my guess is that you get to deal with the company directly (or, worse yet, only via small-claims court) if you want to fight an illegal parking ticket or tow. And I'm sure that this added opacity will be in no way become an incentive for LAZ's part-time workers to issue unwarranted tickets in order to meet company-mandated quotas.

I wonder how long it will be until the smart meters come printed with an EULA in which you waive your right to sue LAZ by parking in front of it...
posted by Mayor West at 7:35 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rent seeking: The tax hike for a new ageā„¢
posted by Talez at 7:36 AM on September 22, 2011


Matt Yglesias goes on and on about "market pricing" of parking, but that just illustrates what a total tool he is. There isn't and never will be, a "free market" in transportation.
I don't think Yglesias is arguing for privatized parking, but rather actual market pricing -- i.e. the rates on meters should be determined by how many people want to use them at a given moment, so as meters fill up the price would go up.

What's happening in Chicago is not market pricing for parking at all. But either way, prices would go up.
posted by delmoi at 7:37 AM on September 22, 2011


Those are some odd bedfellows there: libertarians against cars!

I'm pretty far from a libertarians. You don't have to be a libertarians to think that basic microeconomics is useful.

Do you really think that a "true free market" for cars would make things better? I always thought the point was that point was that smarter government policy would improve things wrt transportation and we shouldn't be hung up on the fact that it is explicit (rather than implicit) policy.

No, I think that we over-subsidize cars, which have huge negative externalities. Cheap parking means more traffic, more pollution, more spread, fewer mixed developments. If anything we should flip the subsidies.

except when various factors make things inelastic. it might be true, it might not and you don't know until a block has emptied out of businesses. retail is really driven by car traffic (for the most part) it's why business owners are so irrational about parking/car issues.

First, because it's all electronic LAZ gets to see the impact of price changes on flow right away. Heavy flow is much more profitable to them since unlike traditional meters you don't get the last car's remaining time.

Second, concentrated retail or particular retail locations are the last thing in our society that needs subsidy. There is no public good there; all the benefit is captured by owners and shoppers. A strip mall dependent on subsidized street parking goes away doesn't reduce productive economic activity; it just moved shopping to some place less in need of subsidy.

Since a lot of people said this, yes, I think that the actual contract signed by Chicago is pretty bad. A shorter term (but still long enough to incentivize investment like the electronic meters) would have been better. A single entity is probably not best either, but the owner of the revenue can sub-contract collection to different agents if there's efficiency to be had.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:37 AM on September 22, 2011


This is what they call the Chicago School, isn't it?
posted by warbaby at 7:43 AM on September 22, 2011


Oh, and there are no libertarians in lighthouses.
posted by warbaby at 7:44 AM on September 22, 2011


I'm guessing that appealing parking tickets from LAZ no longer involves a trip down to the municipal courthouse

This speculation is incorrect. The city still owns tickets.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:45 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


When they came for the parking spaces, I said nothing because I take the bus...
posted by blue_beetle at 7:49 AM on September 22, 2011


Ok, I'm Ironmouthing (home sick today). I'm taking a little time off.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:55 AM on September 22, 2011


I think we should eliminate on-street parking in huge swaths of Chicago. I think we should close more streets to through traffic and institute congestion pricing. I don't really care about the privatizing of the parking meters because I think private automobile traffic is a much bigger problem than figuring out how best to generate revenue from private automobile traffic.

Anyway. Happy Car-Free Day, today, Chicago. I see that most of you still drove your solo butt four miles downtown to work today and paid $26 to park your car two blocks from work. But, hey, some of us took advantage of today's truly amazing weather to walk or bike or otherwise not contribute to the stress, noise, pollution, and infrastructure costs in the city with the highest hit-and-run pedestrian collisions rates in the U.S ("Hit-and-runs account for 33 percent of vehicle-pedestrian collisions and 41 percent of those that are fatal, double the national average, officials said.").
posted by crush-onastick at 8:24 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Are there really that many people that drive to work in the Loop? Everybody I knew took the L (or Metra if they were in the burbs).
posted by kmz at 8:32 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I figured/assumed they'd do something like this for 25 years (max!), but to sell off your parking meter income for 75 years is a bit ridiculous.

The reason these kinds of leases have such long terms is because it allows the lessee to take massive tax breaks. It allows them to claim "effective ownership" of the assets and depreciate their value over 15 years rather than the full life of the assets. Otherwise, the investments would be too risky and the deals wouldn't attract private investors. That's why Chicago leased the Skyway for 99 years and Indiana leased its toll road for 75 years. See page 26 of this GAO report for an explanation (the report is on highways but the same rules apply to parking meters).
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:46 AM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


i used to drive a lot when i worked in the loop. taking the train doubled my commuting time and if the weather was crappy then i'd end up with a pretty miserable walk after my train ride. the boats made that a little better but ultimately i preferred the convenience despite the $26 parking.

of course if metra added a club car on the west line i'd change my mind in a hurry.
posted by lester at 8:47 AM on September 22, 2011


Anyway. Happy Car-Free Day, today, Chicago.

I didn't even realize that was today! I bike to work every day and I thought there was actually more car traffic than usual today. Perhaps spite is a contributing factor -- I knew people who would drive extra on Spare the Air Day just to show those meddling liberals something something.
posted by theodolite at 8:56 AM on September 22, 2011


Second, concentrated retail or particular retail locations are the last thing in our society that needs subsidy. There is no public good there; all the benefit is captured by owners and shoppers. A strip mall dependent on subsidized street parking goes away doesn't reduce productive economic activity; it just moved shopping to some place less in need of subsidy.

All the benefit is definitely not captured by owners and shoppers. Successful businesses pay taxes and generate additional businesses.(Cities like businesses. Cities want businesses. Cities are, way too often, willing to bend over and take it good to get businesses.)

And parking rates can be used strategically. They don't just repel business; they can be adjusted to attract business to certain areas. Of course, once the city hands it all over to a private concern it loses any strategic capabilities.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:02 AM on September 22, 2011


Regarding "Seepage" with time-limited stickers (versus finding a meter with time left on it): In Boston I pulled into a space as the previous car was vacating it, and that driver jumped out of his car and brought his sticker over to me to place on my window. And of course I now do this whenever I vacate a space. Probably only a matter of time until it's made illegal, but....fight the power!
posted by dust of the stars at 9:09 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Fancy meters" also mean extra profits because there's no seepage. If you have a meter where you input a space number or have to get a little slip of paper to put in the windshield, there's no more "hey what luck! This meter still has 20 minutes left on it from the other guy!"

Do people in your city not put non-expired stickers on the machine for you to use?
If not, start the trend! Look out for your fellow man against the parking monopoly!
posted by madajb at 9:26 AM on September 22, 2011


It makes me sad how much empty land there is in Chicago. This site is adjacent to UIC, with transit connections that can get you to downtown in a few minutes. Tens of thousands of people work or attend school within walking distance. The space should be a vibrant neighborhood with apartments, shops, and nightlife, or at the very least a few hundred single-family homes. Or a nice park. Instead it's just acres of empty lots and a few abandoned buildings, a pattern that's repeated throughout the city.

The parking situation is absurd, but not nearly as absurd as the area's existence in the first place.
posted by miyabo at 9:27 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am really surprised that the centralized ticket meters aren't taking over everywhere, but around here they are replacing individual coin meters with individual credit card meters. Can anyone summarize the pros and cons?
posted by smackfu at 9:28 AM on September 22, 2011


It makes me sad how much empty land there is in Chicago. This site is adjacent to UIC, with transit connections that can get you to downtown in a few minutes. Tens of thousands of people work or attend school within walking distance. The space should be a vibrant neighborhood with apartments, shops, and nightlife, or at the very least a few hundred single-family homes. Or a nice park. Instead it's just acres of empty lots and a few abandoned buildings, a pattern that's repeated throughout the city.

According to the Chicago Sojourn link they're planning to drop a Costco on it (which would be the second one in Chicago). Not the worst idea I've ever heard.
posted by theodolite at 9:42 AM on September 22, 2011


Costco, a store for which you generally need a car to haul away big heavy boxes unless you're incredibly strong and don't care what people think of you when you take up 4 seats with your big boxes on the train and bus. While we're talking about encouraging public transit over cars.
posted by bleep at 9:48 AM on September 22, 2011


Are there really that many people that drive to work in the Loop? Everybody I knew took the L (or Metra if they were in the burbs).

I used to work at 35 W. Wacker, and a number of my (often senior) co-workers would drive into the loop and park in a garage. Often they had to travel to client meetings, but they probably could have cabbed it and still saved money.


i used to drive a lot when i worked in the loop. taking the train doubled my commuting time and if the weather was crappy then i'd end up with a pretty miserable walk after my train ride.

This is definitely part of the problem. When the CTA is slower than driving from the South or West Sides, and the Metra can't get you there as fast as the Kennedy or the Dan Ryan, alarm bells should be ringing. In Chicago, like many cities, you can beat cars, trains, or buses on a bike. When you can beat the El in a car, during rush hour, you have a real problem. Of course, God help you if you ask the state for money to support public transit in Chicago.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:48 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, and fuck Daley.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:49 AM on September 22, 2011


Ah, memories. In the summer of 2009, while doing an internship in Chicago, I supplemented my meager savings by showing people how to use those pay boxes.

See, after LAZ got that contract and raised prices, everyone in Chicago was furious. So LAZ decided to hire a PR firm, to help them lessen the rage. This PR firm decided that putting a friendly, human face to the meters was the best way to go. So they went to a temp agency, hired dozens of out-of-work college grads (summer 2009, remember), put them in neon yellow T shirts emblazoned with the phrase 'Ask Me How To Use the Pay Box," and deployed them daily to neighborhoods where the pay boxes had been installed.

Our job was to stand near our pay box and ask people who approached if they had any questions or comments, or needed any help. The vast majority of people already knew how to use them, of course, because they'd been installing them for some time and they're not that confusing anyway. Complaints such as "why don't the boxes take x variety of change" and "fuck monopolies forever" were accepted graciously and promptly forgotten, because we there to absorb irritation, not to actually relay information to management.

We were forbidden to sit down, read, smoke, listen to music or eat on the job. We got lunch breaks, but that was it. At first, each pay box was manned by one person, but after a few months of people going insane from boredom, it was switched to two people per box. Yes, in order to prevent people from reading on the job they decided to spend twice as much money on our salaries. (Of course, since we were checked up on perhaps three times a day, we read and sat and ate whenever we wanted to, but it's the principal, damn it.)

In most neighborhoods, the frequency of parking was around one person every half hour. Some places had far fewer. On my last day of work, I was positioned on some desolate neighborhood in west Chicago, on a block containing several shuttered storefronts, a liquor store, and a closed-to-the-public stuffed animal wholesaler. Not one person parked on my block for the entire seven-hour shift.

I did get a pretty decent tan doing that job, though.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:58 AM on September 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


bleep: "In practice, the administration of the parking system between Chicago Parking Meters, LAZ (the operators) and the vendors Civilzation, it's a gigantic cluster-fuck that manages to keep itself in motion by some miracle every day."


Seriously, I always have this feeling that everything is just sorta duct taped together and it's amazing and a miracle to me that we've survived this long.
posted by symbioid at 10:02 AM on September 22, 2011


So, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the privatization an attempt by Mayor Daley to generate a large amount of cash to plug a looming hole in the city's budget, to not look bad for a year or two?
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:05 AM on September 22, 2011


Costco, a store for which you generally need a car to haul away big heavy boxes unless you're incredibly strong and don't care what people think of you when you take up 4 seats with your big boxes on the train and bus.

Eh, Costco's a step in the right direction though.

Unfortunately a lot of the reason sites don't get developed is that the community is letting the perfect get in the way of the good, in a kind of urban planning paralysis. A big abandoned site near my house in Minneapolis sat vacant for over 15 years while the city was fighting with developers about whether to replace it with affordable apartments or fancy ones...meanwhile this giant abandoned factory was just sitting leaking toxic waste next to people's homes and getting vandalized by teenagers every night.

Hopefully Costco will take over this site, pay to keep it accessible and secure, and after operating a store there for a decade or two it won't have the stigma of dangerous abandoned property. Then a developer can buy it and put in something more dense.

Then the parking meters might actually be necessary!
posted by miyabo at 10:18 AM on September 22, 2011


All the benefit is definitely not captured by owners and shoppers. Successful businesses pay taxes and generate additional businesses.(Cities like businesses. Cities want businesses. Cities are, way too often, willing to bend over and take it good to get businesses.)

I don't think that's quite right. The benefit of additional cheap / subsidized street parking is that it allows additional concentration of activity in time and space. As far as tax base and secondary services go, it doesn't matter how you spatially or temporally arrange the activity within the city. For parking prices though, that's all that matters.

If Costco opens up in that giant empty spot in the FPP which is easily accessed by CTA, the price for street parking can't get that high because there isn't as much competing use for the land and parking space. Costco (and others) can just open up a lot on the otherwise unused dirt, people will take CTA, and the price for a spot will have to be low to get people to use them. If a company opens up a night shift in their downtown office the same is true; nearby parking garages will take low rates rather than nothing for empty space, so LAZ will have to charge a lower night rate to compete.

Those both have the same economic / tax base implication as opening up a costco right next to whole foods on North Ave or adding daytime use to the Sears Tower, but very different parking cost implications.

The overall / total price of parking is something of a different question from raising rates when demand is high. Still, in areas where there is competing use for the land it requires some careful evidence to show that charging less for parking than any other use of the same dirt (ie the market rate at a lot / garage) is a net plus.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:27 AM on September 22, 2011


The reason that site looks like a prairie is that it was until recently home to a public housing development if I'm not mistaken. Most of these have been demolished over the last decade, leaving tracts of empty lots behind.
posted by mai at 10:28 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who's going to take CTA to Costco? I love public transit but the thought of a train full of people with 24 economy-sized purchases each is horrifying.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:44 AM on September 22, 2011


The same people who take the subway in NYC to IKEA.
posted by smackfu at 10:47 AM on September 22, 2011


In the old days, you kept quarters in your car. Park the car, put a couple of quarters in your hand, lock the car, feed the meter - you're on your way. Easy, quick. It was particularly handy if you happened to be in a rough neighborhood.

Now, you have to get out of the car, open your wallet (unless you happen to have 6 dollars of quarters laying around), stand there, wait for a ticket to be printed and then go back to the car to place the ticket in the windshield. It's a time waster.

Everyone and their brother gets to see where you keep your wallet - and gets a few extra minutes to decide if you're an easy target.

Personally, I hate the new system. I'm not seeing any "We Love the New Chicago Parking Boxes" groups on Facebook.

These boxes - and the higher rates, have shown up in all parts of the city. It's one thing to raise rates downtown - but when you raise rates in a poor neighborhood, the people stop parking on the main streets and it will impact business on that street. It's adding another cost to an already cash strapped populace. (I have a friend who owns a resale shop on the southside, this is something I have seen firsthand)

The red light cameras are another example. In many parts of Chicago, people have stopped turning right on red lights. Ever. They just sit there until the light turns green. They can't afford another red light ticket and are afraid of getting one. It's maddening.

If you keep taking bites from someone's sandwich, all they have left to eat are the crumbs.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 11:20 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who's going to take CTA to Costco?

I used to do it. Then Trader Joe's came to the neighborhood.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:43 AM on September 22, 2011


It makes me sad how much empty land there is in Chicago. This site is adjacent to UIC, with transit connections that can get you to downtown in a few minutes. Tens of thousands of people work or attend school within walking distance. The space should be a vibrant neighborhood with apartments, shops, and nightlife, or at the very least a few hundred single-family homes. Or a nice park. Instead it's just acres of empty lots and a few abandoned buildings, a pattern that's repeated throughout the city.

Mai has it right. Until ten years ago, there were housing projects at that site (though I can't remember the name of them right now). There actually has been a lot of growth in that area, though it's mostly been big box stores and student apartments.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:45 PM on September 22, 2011


Just to add my voice to the cacophony...

When I lived in Chicago I hated the parking enforcement scheme with a righteous passion because it seemed like a regressive backdoor tax on the lower middle class who depended on cars for work (i.e. the population I belonged to at the time).

If I wasn't working 50-60 hours a week at two different jobs CTA would have been a viable option, but as it was sometimes I only had a couple hours between a shift in the UIC area and a class I had to teach in Evanston, and I am no going to depend on a Blue to Red to Purple el trip to get me there during rush hour (along with the 15 minute bike to get to/from stations, changing clothes, etc).

If I made a lot more money buying a parking space or living someplace that had a parking space would've been an option. But on 35k I had to depend on cheaper (in the short term) street parking. And so I threw down a few hundred in a city sticker, few hundred every time car was towed (because its mid Sept, obviously I should walk up and down 1-2 blocks from my parking space to make sure there's no "Winter Overnight Parking Ban" signs behind trees or placed askew on a overloaded lamp post).

But no, instead I was 22, new to the city, and even though I love biking and reading on buses, sending Mayor Daley 400-500 Dollars in donations every year. Yeah, I don't miss that part of Chicago at all. I know parking isn't Free but all the ways Chicago had found to extract as much money as they can from people who aren't as experienced with the System or don't have the resources to work the alternatives is downright slimey.
posted by midmarch snowman at 2:53 PM on September 22, 2011


Regarding seepage and passing on tickets, no need to make it illegal, the next step is tickets where you type your licence plate number into the machine and it prints on your ticket.
posted by biffa at 3:59 PM on September 22, 2011


I used to go to Costco on the bus, too, but I stopped, cause I don't need to buy that much of anything, ever, really.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:47 PM on September 22, 2011


the next step is tickets where you type your licence plate number into the machine and it prints on your ticket.

Another good one is numbered spots, where you put in your number at the machine and pay. There are no tickets, so you have no idea if someone paid for time on the spot already.
posted by smackfu at 5:39 PM on September 22, 2011


Another good one is numbered spots

Minneapolis does this in one neighborhood! I didn't know why until now!
posted by miyabo at 6:10 PM on September 22, 2011


The hospital here went a step further. They installed occupancy sensors in each spot, as soon as you leave your time expires. And the irritating thing is they removed emergency room free parking. So when you go to the ER you have to try and guess how long you are going to be there (impossible if you aren't having a heart attack or something) at the risk of losing your slot when you go to feed the machine when you under estimate.
posted by Mitheral at 7:53 PM on September 22, 2011


Chicagoan here. The deal is pretty rotten. I recently parked in an area that did not have any other cars parked. Paid the meter...got 47 minutes. Left...was shopping...lost track of time...looked at my watch...I had burned through 45 minutes...CRAP! Running to my car, I see a minivan starting to pull up. Sprint to my car...get in before the meter readers can get out. It made realize that they know all of the odds on actually finding a car at an expired meter spot. There is no way that their appearance was random. Further, there was no one else parked on either side of the block for at least a block. Bastards!

They are not enforcing this evenly, but rather, in ways that they can collect more per meter reader. This is my unfounded opinion and my wife says I amnot that crazy.
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:56 PM on September 22, 2011


Why would the enforcement agency be going to that effort if tickets go to the city?
posted by Mitheral at 8:50 PM on September 22, 2011


I work in IMD. I have parked there. Stormpooper's opinion to the contrary it is generally ok to walk around or park during the day. It's empty when all the medical students are not in school. Before the meters it would actually fill up, now it much easier to find parking when I do drive.

As for why it is a giant empty space? The previously mentioned Costco is going to grab up 16 acres to the east. Plus both UIC and a couple other institutions in the area want expand. Uic, for example, plans on building 2 new giant medical buildings, and in particular the hospital plans are sizable. plus parking. Once the state has better finances (thanks to the income tax increase) they should actually develop a state capital plan and you will see projects like this get rolling.
posted by zenon at 11:02 PM on September 22, 2011


please note, late readers, that chicago sold the revenue from parking meters but the city is still in charge of and collects fees from parking tickets. hence there are still city of chicago employees generating revenue.
posted by lester at 7:45 PM on September 25, 2011


I'm guess the enforcement was left with the city because they have the power of law to collect where as a private company does not. I wonder how restrictive the enforcement wording is. Seems like the city could recapture a lot of the revenue by offering parking subscriptions. IE: Pay a monthly fee and all tickets to a specific licence plate will be waived.
posted by Mitheral at 7:32 AM on September 26, 2011


that chicago sold the revenue from parking meters but the city is still in charge of and collects fees from parking tickets

Well that sounds like the worst of both worlds; the revenue goes to a private company but the city still has to do the enforcement and collections work, and probably is still stuck with pension obligations, etc.

Though if there's no guarantee of a specific amount of revenue, maybe the city can just subtract all the pension/benefits/salary obligations that it incurs as a result of servicing out of the revenue stream, until there's nothing left. I doubt the private buyer would be stupid enough to allow that when they made the agreement (I suspect, if it's similar to some highway-toll sales, that there's a revenue guarantee), but it would certainly be just desserts.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:04 AM on September 26, 2011


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